I am an accomplished cook. Not bragging, merely stating a truth. I make excellent osso buco, chicken and sausage gumbo, banana pudding, potatoes daupehnois; I cover the motehrfucking waterfront.
I learned, early on in my so-called adulthood, that if one wants to eat well, one needs to cook well. And so, I taught myself. After R Man died, though, I stopped cooking. I drifted into surviving on cold cereal and cookies and sandwiches from the deli and, every lazy man’s fall back, pizza.
Last week, though, I suddenly stepped back into the kitchen and starting slinging hash, It wasn’t something I deliberated over. One afternoon, I just decided I wanted to make a chicken pot pie and you know what? It was delicious. I have since cooked almost every night. A lot of the things are simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy. Red beans (one of my absolute favorite things to eat) are simple, but it seems to be easy to make bad ones, god knows I have choked down my share of them. Mine, on the other hand, could compete against any old New Orleans grannie’s and I would hold my own.
Also, that favorite of Ladies’ Clubs everywhere, chicken salad. I have to make two versions because Super Agent Fred, who’s staying here a lot these days while painting, hates all forms of pickles and mustards, a bias I view as bizarre. So I make a poached chicken/celery/mayo base, split it in two, put his away and then finish mine with relish and capers and tarragon mustard. It would make strong men weep.
I’ve also taken to baking, never a strong suit of mine. I think cooking, which you can usually tinker with as you go along and correct is an art and baking, where you combine elements, add heat and hope for the best is science. Still, in the last few days I’ve put out a carrot cake (from R Man’s dear, sweet little aunt’s recipe, in her own dainty, old lady handwriting) that was nothing short of dynamite and a sherry cake, luscious and full of a very potent kick of sherry, it was teatime with someone’s Victorian auntie.
And then, of course, a fall. Nothing will flatten your hubris like a cooking disaster, except, possibly a sexual disaster. But we’re talking cooking here.
I just wanted a spice cake. They’re easy, I just take a boxed mix and add nutmeg and cinnamon and pepper (and instant pudding, another Ladies’ Club trick that results in a lovely moist and rich cake.) I thought I would finish it with a brown sugar frosting and that’s where it all went so terribly, terribly wrong.
Most brown sugar recipes call for boiling the sugar in butter to melt the crystals, but boiling sugar makes me nervous. Any splash or dribble on your skin burns like a particularly torturous hell, plus the liquified sugar is glue that sticks to your skin while you’re cursing and squealing and trying to get it off.
I found, instead, a brown sugar buttercream frosting. I love buttercreams, their taste, their texture and their foolproof easiness. In fact, I have the recipe for the basic one memorized. No great feat since it’s “1, 2, 3.” One stick of butter, 2 cups of powdered sugar and 3 tablespoons of milk. Cream the butter and sugar and then add the milk a little at a time until you get the right consistency.
As usual, this mnemonic is actually just a rule of thumb. You need about a half teaspoon of vanilla as well, but that doesn’t go with in with the 1, 2, 3 thingy. You can adjust the amount of sugar however you want and I don’t think I’ve ever actually measured the milk; you just dribble it in SLOWLY. The change in the consistency is so quick and so drastic it will make you believe in alchemy.
So I came to this new recipe pretested,so to speak. The problem was I was also making a quiche at the same time and was paying most of my attention to it. That’s my excuse anyway. In reality there is no reason why I would read a direction calling for FOUR cups of powdered sugar and not have some serious pause. Sometimes you just trust in the recipe. Sometimes you get fucked in the ass.
I got ready to add the milk and realized the mixing bowl looked like I had simply dumped a bag of sugar in it. Which is pretty much just what I had done. I got the consistency down to something spreadable, put it on the cake and had my first bite.
As Diane von Austinburg will attest, I have quite sweet tooth, but even I cannot choke this bitch down. It is remarkably similar to what eating the contents of a sugar bowl with a spoon must be like. The frosting was so overwhelming, I’m not sure how the cake was, but I plan to try to save it by scraping off the sugar festival and replacing it with another , more restrained buttercream.
I was so amazed how bad the result was, I went back to re-read the whole, in case I had had some kind of Alzheimer’s moment. That’s when I noticed the site’s name was “Two Sisters Crafting.” Could there have been a more obvious warning sign?